Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

Category: Online

What do journalists do in social media workshops? Tweet, of course

Social media guru Sree Sreenivasan shared his expertise at The Times on Monday, and editors and reporters promptly put his advice to good use on Twitter... 


Highlights of the past week on

A memo to the newsroom from Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr:

Just a quick note to highlight some of the digital activities on this past week.

Primary night

The Sacramento bureau and the Metro staff did a great job in providing real-time coverage of the California primary on Tuesday.

Not only did our readers benefit from insightful set-up pieces, but the breaking-news posts throughout the night kept them very much in touch and informed.

City Editor Shelby Grad hosted live morning chats that let our readers participate in the conversation with the reporters who covered the election.

Then we transitioned from written to video chats on Tuesday night when David Lazarus hosted numerous live video discussions with Anthony York and others via Google Hangout.

The centerpiece of our coverage was a conceptual map of California, designed by Tom Lauder and Anthony Pesce, that emphasized population over geography but was still familiar enough to be recognizable as California’s distinctive shape.

Although such maps -- called cartograms -- aren’t very common on news sites, we thought the approach was the best way to cover the state’s first widespread open primary.  Instead of large counties in the north and east dominating the map, despite having little population, our readers got an accurate representation of where political power truly lies.

Our readers appeared to love it.  Not only was it one of the most-viewed pages last week, but it lighted up social networks.

Continue reading »

L.A. Times falls for Internet hoax, then sets the record straight

On May 1, The Times and a number of other media organizations followed the outrageous story reported in a British newspaper of a vengeful dentist in Poland who pulled out all of her ex-boyfriend’s teeth.

The Times’ article on the Tech Now blog focused on the huge response the story had received online:

Versions of the story have been tweeted and shared again and again on Facebook and via Google. A version of the story posted on Yahoo News already has 15,000 comments and counting.

But the article went on to repeat details of the story in the original Daily Mail article -- which has since been removed from its website -- including quotes from the reputed victim, such as, “I didn’t have any reason to doubt her; I mean I thought she was a professional.”

Unfortunately, reported Wednesday, the story was a hoax.

MSNBC did some digging into the story and found:

  • Police in Wroclaw, Poland, had no record of such an incident.
  • Poland’s Chamber of Physicians and Dentists also had no record of any such incident, nor of the dentist named in the article.
  • The Daily Mail could not recall where the story came from.
  • And the American Dental Assn. said the such a case was highly improbable.

After Craig Silverman of Regret the Error pointed out MSNBC’s findings on the Poynter Institute’s website, The Times corrected its May 1 article.

Times reporter Rene Lynch also wrote a follow-up post that was published Wednesday evening.

“No doubt, journalism watchdogs will rightfully point to the episode as a cautionary tale of what can happen when journalists like me are sitting at a keyboard, trying to keep up with fast-breaking news and a 24-hour news cycle that just doesn't quit,” Lynch wrote.

“Kudos to MSNBC for taking the time and making the effort to follow the story behind the story. No matter how fast the news is breaking, there's always time to find out the truth.” 

--Deirdre Edgar


Times announces paid 'membership' for

The Times has announced a paid "membership" program for If you are a home delivery subscriber, you are already a "member" of, and you won't be charged for reading beyond 15 articles.

Also, some features of the site won't be counted in your monthly articles, including the Games page and the Readers' Representative Journal.

An article by Jerry Hirsch explains the "membership" program vs. a "paywall":

Although digital payment plans are commonly known as "paywalls," The Times is billing its plan as a "membership program" that will include retail discounts, deals and giveaways, as well as access to digital news.

Hirsch's article has details of the payment plans that will be offered to those who aren't already home delivery subscribers.

A registration page has been set up at, though it says information will not be available until March 5.

--Deirdre Edgar


2011 a year of record growth for

A note to the staff from Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr:

No better way to put it:  2011 was a remarkable year for journalism at the Los Angeles Times on the digital front.

Not only did our overall readership soar by unparalleled numbers but we recorded significant growth in every major category.

We’ll go through a few of those categories here, but suffice it to say that we’re reaching more readers and engaging with them better than ever before.

Much of our success can be attributed to the fact that we are jumping on news when it happens.  Year-over-year readership on our blogs increased by 139%.

As you’ll see by the top 10 most-read stories (below), our enterprise journalism was also very well-read.  It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Christopher Goffard’s two-part series recounting the ordeal of a man falsely accused of viciously attacking the mother of his young son was our most read online story in 2011.

Congratulations on a terrific year.
Page views

After only growing by 1.6% in 2010, we exploded in 2011, growing by 28% and topping 2.1 billion pages read.  Outstanding.


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Seattle residents to Times reporter: 'Who are you calling wimps?'

Seattle snow

Times Northwest correspondent Kim Murphy's recent story about the snowstorm in western Washington state -- in particular its headline, "Snow wimps: Seattle is shut down by first real snow of the season" -- didn't sit well with a number of Seattle residents, many of whom seemed to take special offense because the story originated from a Los Angeles news organization.

Murphy's story has been a topic of discussion for the Seattle Times and Seattle's KING-5 News ("The LA Times?! I will listen to the LA Times when it describes the microclimates on Kim Kardashian's continental derriere. That, it would know."), led to an interview on the city's KIRO FM and caused a mini-uproar on Twitter. (Apparently not all Seattleites take criticism over their response to winter weather as lightly as the creator of this series of videos, which we can't show here due to a wee bit of rough language.)

Thursday morning, Murphy, formerly The Times' Moscow bureau chief, reported that the storm "turned ugly ... blanketing much of western Washington in slick sheets of ice," prompting Washington's Gov. Christine Gregoire to declare a winter storm emergency. Hundreds of thousands of western Washington homes were without power as of midday as a result of the storm, and Oregon was facing its own problems as a result of flooding. 

Below, some of the responses to The Times' story from Twitter users. (Unfortunately, profanity prevented us from including a few of our favorite tweets.)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Fallen trees are seen along a section of Central Avenue in Kent, Wash., after an ice storm, on Jan. 19. Credit: John Lok / McClatchy Tribune News Service  



Offsite audience drives growth in November

A memo to the staff from Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr and Senior Vice President/Digital Emily Smith:

New Year’s resolution No. 1:  Send monthly note out earlier (this note is for November).  Yikes. But November was a great month.  So let’s recap it.  We continued to break new ground in real-time reporting for the benefit of our Southern California readers.  Our audience grew by 13.5% year over year, according to ComScore.  For those keeping count, this makes nine consecutive months of double-digit growth (ComScore).

Where did SoCal go for live, round-the-clock coverage of the eviction of Occupy L.A. protesters?  L.A. Now.  Through photos, livestreaming video, and reporter tweets, our dynamic, real-time coverage placed readers in the center of the action on City Hall grounds.  (Samples: @katelinthicum: “Clergy were escorted in by #LAPD and tried to talk @OccupyLA protesters into peaceful resolution. They are now watching from city hall steps.”  “They're also trying to get down 2 protesters atop a 3-story tree house built in a palm tree right outside of Mayor Villaraigosa's office.”)

Aggressive, in-the-moment news and images dominated the homepage throughout the night. No other news source offered the speed and breadth of

“We did so well on Occupy L.A. because we have such well-sourced reporters -- Andrew Blankstein and Kate Linthicum -- who had inside info. on the plans,” Shelby Grad told us. “Then we flooded the zone with reporters. We had a team inside the building all night and morning posting all types of content -- stories, video, pix, etc. A truly multimedia, real-time affair.”

Peter Pae and the Business staff took that same approach to the L.A. Auto Show.  Readers turned to our coverage of the annual event more than 2.2 million times.  If you missed it, here’s a good starting point:  Bryan Chan put together six cool panoramas from the showroom floor, and from there you can check out all the reporting.  To follow all of Jerry Hirsch’s continuing auto coverage, follow him here on Twitter.

Offsite reach

Speaking of Jerry, one of the things he said earlier this year bears repeating:  “I want to be my own circulation department.”

That’s great -- in other words, not relying on the homepage for promotion. Rather, actively taking our journalism to where readers congregate. We’re continuing to improve here. Since March, we’ve grown by double-digit margins month after month after month, and it’s directly related to our real-time reporting and offsite reach. Readership from Google is up by 88% year over year.  Audience growth from Facebook is up by 254%.

For example, David Willman’s story on the Obama administration’s $433-million plan to pursue an experimental smallpox drug was one of the most-read articles in November; more than 70% of our readers came from off site.  Same goes for Sergei L. Loiko’s story on the exodus of Russian citizens leaving the country: 72% came from off site. 

Our growth on Facebook and Twitter remains steady and strong; by the end of the month we had more than150,000 fans on the main Facebook page and more than 190,000 followers of @latimes on Twitter.

(The jury is still out on whether Google Plus will be able to cut into Facebook’s social media dominance, but our presence on the network is strong). 

That’s not to say our front door isn’t important. But to continue to expand our audience, all of us must be actively participating in the social space and bringing new readers to our site instead of waiting for readers to find us.

Take Deborah Netburn, for example.  In the social space, she has a great track record.  Averaging more than 1,000 Facebook shares per post, she rarely has homepage promotion but produces some of the most-read stories on our site month in and month out. 

In case you missed it

Make sure to read Ken Bensinger’s fantastic multipart series on used-car dealerships that cater to people with bad credit, no credit, or low income. While you’re there, check out the great graphics presentation by Lorena Iñiguez Elebee, Raoul Rañoa, Les Dunseith, Robert Burns, John Corrigan and Steve Eames.

Check out Kurt Streeter’s series on hospice care in a high-security penitentiary and visit the excellent photo gallery by Brian van der Brug.

Watch the video in the “Breaking the cycle of abuse” story by Irfan Khan. It is a wrenching look into a house of “doom and gloom” narrated by domestic abuse survivor Laura Cowan, who unknowingly led herself and her children into the middle of one of the most notorious abuse cases in recent California history.

Video: Following a new initiative, reporters throughout the newsroom, powered by the launch of a new video system (Brightcove), offered readers more story-related videos than ever, leading the way to our highest-trafficked month ever, with 514,650 streams.

On the road: Star Ministry of Gossip blogger Christie D’Zurilla was on the road last week to Sacramento.  She headed up to the bureau to work with our PolitiCal bloggers.  No one better to do it.  She’s increased her readership by 121% year over year.

Mobile:  In November, we continued to meet our readers on the platforms of their choosing.  We had a 24% increase in readership to our iPad app, which beat October's 18% growth. Audiences to our phone apps and mobile site each grew 19%.  Additionally, in Version 1.5 of our iPad app, which made it to the iTunes store early in the month, we were able to give our readers a much more stable app, cleaner panels, and an offline reading tool.

Welcome:  Ron Parsons has accepted a new position with LATMG.  He will be one of the leaders in our new Digital Product Management team, aiming to develop and improve our core digital products.  Ron blends editorial experience with insightful product development chops, and will help to define our product strategy.  This will involve working cross-functionally, gathering requirements, defining the vision and product goals, and leading technology, design, and user experience to drive our products from inception to launch.

Ron holds a masters in journalism and started his career as a sports reporter for the Arizona Daily Star.  Since then, he has worked for IBM, Yahoo Inc., Tribune/L.A. Times, and Buzz Media.  Ron has most recently been the senior director of product development at Tribune Interactive.  His most recent project was to launch the paywall for Baltimore and Allentown.

We’d also like to welcome Analisa Tamayo to the L.A. Times.  She will be one of our key digital product leads as we build the LATMG product management team.  Analisa comes to us from ABC News Digital, where she was most recently the senior product manager for mobile and video.  She has also worked at MTV Networks as a product manager and a QA lead and was previously at Muze Inc. as a test engineer.  Analisa was a freelance writer for New York magazine, Rolling Stone, and Spin.  She holds a B.A. degree in anthropology and a B.S. degree in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin.

Now to the tale of the tape...

Top 10 blogs

L.A. Now: 11,660,107
Framework: 5,846,334
Nation Now: 4,615,420
Travel: 4,154,844*
Ministry of Gossip: 4,191,230*
Politics Now: 3,619,574
Fabulous Forum: 3,615,799*
Technology: 3,184,943
Show Tracker: 2,021,628
Hero Complex: 1,805,052

*New record

Top 10 stories/blog posts

Canada’s new plastic $100 bill is all tricked out -- Deborah Netburn: 421,289
Cost, need questioned in $433-million smallpox drug deal -- David Willman: 387,923
Scientists invent lightest material on earth. What now? -- Deborah Netburn: 332,923
Shootings, pepper-spray attack mar Wal-Mart Black Friday sales -- Andrew Blankstein, Hailey Branson-Potts: 300,655
Sheriff’s Department reopens Natalie Wood case -- Richard Winton, Sam Allen, Andrew Blankstein:  268,112
Pacquiao vs. Marquez: Live coverage -- Lance Pugmire: 266,182
Customers hit by pepper spray at Wal-Mart describe scene of chaos -- Andrew Blankstein, Shan Li, Hailey Branson-Potts, Dalina Castellanos: 248,225
Frequent gamers have brain differences, study finds -- Eryn Brown: 224,742
Russians are leaving the country in droves -- Sergei Loiko: 195,242
Multiple missteps led to drone killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- David Cloud, David Zucchino: 166,182

Social media, mobile, video boost in September "September digital note" from Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr and Senior Vice President/Digital Emily Smith:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we continue to grow.

We’ll get to September shortly, but in the last six months, Google traffic is up 79.4%, Facebook traffic up 254.2%, unique visitors up 33.7%, page views up 36%, page views per visit up 12.5% and home page traffic up 16.6%.

We again far outperformed our newspaper peers in terms of digital audience growth in September.  As a result, it became one of our best months in terms of unique visitors, continuing a remarkable run this year.

The takeaway:  When we cover news the way a digital audience expects and embrace social media dialogue, more and more Californians come to our site and more and more advertisers rely upon us to reach their target audiences.  We become the first stop, whether it is a local, national or international story.

Social media surge

We’ve increased our Facebook fan base by 678% year over year, and have made further impressive gains in engaging readers across the social media landscape.

Facebook’s new “people are talking about” metric measures the number of unique people who have interacted with a page and its content:  A high ratio of “talking about” to “likes” is an indication of an involved audience.  Today, our main Facebook page has a ratio of 10.1%, ranking us among the top in our competitive space. 

On September’s Twitter front, the most retweeted post from @latimes was Bank of America to charge $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases.  Elsewhere, we received nearly a million page views from discovery engine StumbleUpon, placing that site among our top 10 referral sources.

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August was most-visited month in history of

A memo to employees from Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr and Senior Vice President/Digital Emily Smith:

Today we’re broadening the monthly traffic stats update to include our digital efforts across the company to provide better communication and understanding of the progress and goals of this key part of our business.

As usual, there is much good news to report, including’s highest traffic month ever, a couple of key new hires in Jennifer Collins and Claire Hawley, and sales and reader momentum on our iPad and iPhone apps.  We also have seven finalists — more than any other news organization — in the awards given by the Online News Assn., which will be announced later this week. 

This being Southern California, we bring you the traffic report first.

According to ComScore, August 2011 was the most-visited month in the history of, with 18.6 million unique visitors.  ComScore reports that our year-over-year growth in unique visitors, 53.4%, was more than double that of our closest newspaper competitor, USA Today (at +22.5%), and almost four times that of the Washington Post (+13.6%).  We handily beat everyone else in our peer group when it comes to growth (NYT was up 9%; WSJ, 18.7%).

These numbers cement our position as the No. 2-most-visited U.S. newspaper website.  At the beginning of this year, we were fifth.

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On Twitter: Our mistake, your amusement

Ang Lee

Earlier today, our main Twitter account, @latimes, mistakenly tweeted a three-letter bit of nonsense. No link, no nothin'; it simply read "ang."

Before we had a chance to delete the offending tweet, though, many of our followers had seen and responded to it. Here are a few of our favorite responses:

-- Lindsay Barnett, @latimessocial

Photo: Director Ang Lee. Credit: Kin Cheung / Associated Press in July: No summer slowdown

A memo from Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr about traffic in July:

More explosive growth at We're busting myths (summers and weekends mean slow traffic), we're setting records, and we have seen unparalleled growth for the last five months.

Great Times journalism continued to drive readership in July, with an able assist from the new ways we are creating to engage our SoCal community.  As a result of increasingly aggressive online reporting, posting stories earlier and more frequently, innovations in storytelling and presentation, and the most compelling content online, we once again sit atop the charts for growth among the top five newspaper sites.

ComScore's numbers were released last week, and again showed the highest increase in unique visitors, year over year, with an impressive 22.5% showing. On the heels of last month's 22.8% increase (also putting us at No. 1), we’ve leapfrogged the Washington Post and are locked in as the second-most-read newspaper site in the country. While we enjoyed double-digit growth, the Post grew by 1.6%.

In terms of page views, our internal Omniture numbers recorded a 35.2% increase over July 2010 with 185.5 million. That marks the third-highest trafficked month in the history of the site. And it's not about spikes or singular news events – it's about consistency, as supported by charting the days on which we’ve exceeded 5 million page views:

  • In 2009, we averaged 3 days per month when we exceeded 5 million page views.
  • In 2010, we averaged 3.8 days of topping 5 million page views.
  • In March 2011, we surpassed 5 million page views on 17 days.
  • In April 2011, we topped 5 million page views again on 17 days.
  • In May 2011, we exceeded 5 million page views on 24 days.
  • In June 2011, we hit 5 million-plus on 18 days.
  • And last month we hit a record, surpassing 5 million on 25 days.
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Overheard on Twitter: In defense of teachers, wind energy, the Angels

An op-ed column by a charter school teacher in South Los Angeles drew praise this week. Other Twitter users were disappointed about coverage of wind energy and having to search for Angels scores.

The comments, compiled by Ebony Bailey:

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